Thank You, Neighbors!

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
From Mark 12:31

I don’t have the time to post two reflections in a single day. Still, yesterday’s activity in my snow-covered neighborhood compels me to do just that.

Several inches of snow had fallen overnight. Local schools were closed and some of the neighbors worked from home. A few others had unavoidable obligations which prevented them from clearing their walks and driveways. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast and coffee (okay, my husband had the coffee), we bundled up and headed outdoors to tackle our driveway and then move on to the neighbors’.

While Mike started our snowblower and I grabbed a shovel, two more snowblowers arrived on the scene. Our neighbor Ron from down the block had already cleared his own driveway and those of two neighbors on his side of the street. He’d come down the block to begin his fourth driveway just across the street from us. Our other neighbor Mike had done his own drive and was finishing up another neighbor’s driveway on our side of the street. When he saw us, he aligned his snowblower with my husband’s. They cleared our driveway in a few minutes. As for me, I had only the front walk and the steps outside our the back door to deal with. When I thanked the guys for their efforts, they looked surprised. In their minds, they simply did what any neighbor would do.

Though yesterday’s outdoor temperature was uncomfortably cold, I came into the house after shoveling the snow feeling warm to my core. That’s what happens when we neighbors simply do what any neighbor would do.

Loving God, help me to love all of the neighbors whom I meet along the way as simply and as generously as my snow-moving neighbors loved me yesterday.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Icy Conditions… Hopeful Conditions…

This, remember, is the message
you heard from the beginning:
Love one another.

1 John 3:11

I have a little headache and a bit of heartache. The realities of the New Year have revealed themselves in full force. I celebrated with many across this world when the clock struck 12:00 AM on New Year’s morning. I shared their relief over the close of Year 2017 and I whispered prayers of gratitude for the many blessings of that year. Still, I realize that there is much to be done if there is ever going to be peace on earth and peace in my little corner of this world.

Apparently, the heavens have a headache, too. A storm is brewing just beyond my window. This is an odd phenomenon. Only rarely do we hear thunder before a snow. If my minimal meteorological knowledge serves me, ice pellets, rather than snowflakes, will fall within the next few minutes. I wonder. Ice pellets sting, unlike snowflakes which gently settle to the earth. Still, in the end, both blanket the earth in white.

My headache fades a bit. There is wisdom to be found in the white stuff which has begun to fall. As those icy pellets tap my windowpane, their music lifts my spirit. I realize that Year 2018 brings its challenges, but it also brings promise. Sometimes, I will be called to respond gently like the falling snow. Sometimes, my actions may sting me or those who need me. In the end, I will do what I can to blanket as much of this world as possible with God’s peace.

Loving God, you never said that our work will be easy, but you will always be with us as we do it. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Snow?

Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.

Psalm 98:7-9

Though the snowy cold often inconveniences us a bit, I cannot deny that wintertime captivates me. While early December’s warmth provided excellent conditions for Christmas shopping, the cold which followed made the last few days before Christmas a challenge for most of us. Still, intermittent showers of frozen flakes uplifted my spirit. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree and an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I’m in heaven! I willingly volunteer to be the driver in the worst winter weather. You see, even then, I find peace in the midst of nature’s havoc.

Why this affinity with this difficult season? I’m not certain. I can only guess. The “winters” of my lifetime have snowed a plethora of challenges and sorrows and disappointments upon me. Still, I emerged from each storm with renewed hope, increased stamina and a stronger resolve to carry on. Perhaps winter, when most living things lie dormant beneath the surface, symbolizes the potential to be found in the many unexpected places, circumstances and people in our lives. Perhaps knowing that spring will eventually come inspires my hope that, indeed, life is everywhere, in everything and in everyone!

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world that so inspires my hope. Help me to uncover that hope for those around me, whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts Everywhere…

The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.

Psalm 24:1

The four seasons captivate me with their shows of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hint of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though autumn’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors captivate as well. Yet, in spite of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year.

The blustering winds outdoors hint at winter’s impending arrival. That frigid season will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow beneath my feet and I’m in outdoor heaven!

My revelry over our ever-changing seasons doesn’t dispel the twinge of frustration I experience as I peek out the window at the leaves I raked an hour ago. They’ve deserted their piles to flit and crackle in the wind. Are they laughing at my wasted effort? Mounds of snow will soon do the same. Still, I look forward to winter. Living things lying dormant beneath the snowy surface symbolize the potential to be found in so many unexpected people and places. These wonderful discoveries rekindle my hope just as winter does. You see, though they may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere!

Creator God, help me always to appreciate the gifts to be found in others whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lessons In The Snow

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I treated myself to a stroll through the neighborhood. Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my knees. There would be no cutting corners this time around. The occasional blocked sidewalk caused me to detour into the street where the village snowplows left a clear path. It was there that I discovered the gray-stained snow that I would otherwise have missed. When I returned to the sidewalk, images of that gray snow remained with me. I found myself identifying with its lost luster. “You’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who made similar observations. The encouragement I felt was tangible. As I walked on, I sought out similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; the invisible pond near Village Hall which hid under a blanket of white; that row of proud arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created a great source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find great encouragement, amazing mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance it become our best selves again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Nature and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be With Me…

Just a note… I haven’t forgotten the alphabet! On Sundays I’ll post my usual longer reflections and then return to my ABCs the rest of each week.

Most January weekends, a few of our parishioners stop on their way out of Mass to say, “See you this spring!” They sport relieved smiles as they explain that they’re headed to the warmer weather in Florida or another typically snow-free destination. I admit that I used to wonder how anyone could leave home for an entire season. Today, I finally understand as I zip my jacket over my flannel shirt and hoodie. “I’m tired of being cold!” I moan. I say this in spite of the bright sunshine beyond my window which transforms tiny flecks of snow into diamonds. Nature lover that I am, I’m puzzled by my attitude. The mere hint of snow usually lifts my spirit, but this isn’t the case today. Still, I head out on an errand which this week’s busyness forced me to put off until now.

Nagging concerns distract me on the way to the garage. As I ease into my car, I see the strings of Christmas lights I rolled up yesterday. It always pains me to take down our decorations as I’m habitually reluctant to let go of Christmastime. I pride myself in making an annual attempt to transform The Twelve Days of Christmas into The Twelve Months of Christmas as best I can. Stubborn woman that I am, I promise myself that New Year 2017 will be no exception. Still, troubles great and small complicate my life these days. So it is that I decide to take action. Running an errand in the freezing cold isn’t the best setting for reflection. Still, I shift into meditative mode.

As the frost disappears from my windshield, I switch the radio to the CD player. When nothing happens, I remember that I removed my Christmas CD when I checked traffic the other day. I fiddle through the cache of CDs in my obsolete map holder and discover Be With Me*. It’s the work of Matt Wessel, a young man who performed fourteen Concerts for Life at my parish church to benefit The American Cancer Society. I purchased Matt’s first CD back when he was in high school to be supportive of this young and talented musician. I purchased the rest for purely selfish reasons. I love Matt’s music because it speaks to me in the best and the worst of times. Though today isn’t the worst day of my life, it certainly isn’t the best. I insert the disc and back out of the garage. I stop in the driveway to check traffic and to bypass the first three songs. I need to hear the title song because I can’t speak its sentiments for myself: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me, Lord, I pray. At once, I realize that I’ve found the words I should have spoken days ago. I stop the car and allow Matt’s song to pray for me.

The stubbornness I mentioned earlier can be a troublesome trait, especially when it comes to my propensity to “fix” things. Though I know that I’ll never be able to remedy all of the world’s troubles or all of my own, I try. When I fail, which has often been the case during the past few weeks, I succumb to melancholy. Tears sting my eyes and I finally pray for myself, “Be with me, Lord…” I realize that I don’t have to go it alone, not today and not ever. During the most difficult times of our lives, none of us are left to go it alone. I drive on to tend to my errand. As I consider this writing, I smile as I thank God for the consistently well-timed inspiration which never fails me.

Today’s scriptures reference our communal need for God’s presence. In the first reading (Isaiah 8:23-9:3), Isaiah rejoices in the relationship with God which gives life to the Jewish People. In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17), St. Paul registers serious disappointment with his friends at Corinth. They’ve wasted much time and energy bickering. They all consider themselves Christians. Still, they differentiate among themselves because of who brought them into the faith: Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. There is no negotiating as to who is the greatest of their teachers and Paul insists that they unite in the name of Jesus. After all, it is Jesus who is with them in everything! Matthew’s gospel (4:12-23) references Isaiah’s passage to underscore the arrival of this Jesus for whom they have waited. Later, Jesus exhibits his own appreciation of God’s presence and of those God has given him to love. Jesus’ heart breaks over the arrest of his cousin John the Baptist. John is family in both the human and the spiritual sense. His absence hurts Jesus just as our losses hurt us. Yet, even in his sorrow, Jesus embraces others when he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. Even in his sorrow, Jesus seeks out helpers to bring the good news of God’s loving presence to all people.

Finally, my errand is accomplished, my melancholy is banished and I smile. I repeat Matt’s prayer and I promise to make it my own as I thank God for being with me today. God never allows us to go it alone even when we think we’re alone. God resides in each of our hearts and so it will always be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved